Experiments in Space, Time and the Body

Thursday and Friday last week, 19th and 20th of April, saw the latest colloquium in the Ordered Universe programme. This time the focus was on the medieval science of time-reckoing – Compotus. To this science Grosseteste made a notable, and highly original contribution, in the 1220s. The colloquium took the theme of compotus, using the beautiful, tiny, and beguiling Durham Cathedral Library Manuscript Hunter 100, as a fulcrum, on which to balance thoughts about the inheritance and legacy of scientific learning as related to time-reckoning from the late tenth century to Grosseteste. In this way too we explored the context for and background too Grosseteste’s compotus, as well as the context for Hunter 100, and the wider dimensions of what medieval science meant, and how it related to the wider experiences of life in the period. Ordered Universe regulars Faith Wallis, Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, Giles Gasper, Philipp Nothaft and Sarah Gilbert were joined by a range of other experts, from graduate students to established scholars, Ana Dias, Eric Ramírez Weaver, Helen Foxhall Forbes, Charlie Rozier, Alfred Lohr and Jonathon Turnock. In the wonderful surroundings of All Souls College, and the Hovenden Room, two extremely stimulating days flashed past.

The first day began with Helen Foxhall Forbes on scientific learning from the late tenth century to the early twelfth, looking in particular at a group of manuscripts – science compilations include compotistical material, and scribes in the south-west of England, in the Kingdom of Wessex. The array of networks demonstrated between religious houses and centres of learning, between England and Francia, and between generations, as well as the reasons why collections were made, used and re-used, raised themes which continued throughout the colloquium. Charlie Rozier took on the question of historical learning and scientific albums, and experiments with chronology, at Durham, and elsewhere in the early twelfth century. The Star Catalogue of Hunter 100, lavishly and beautifully illustrated (the more striking in so small a book), gave Eric Ramírez Weaver a fantastic platform to think about the Carolingian or later Antique models from which the illustrations may have been drawn, and how those models were moulded and transformed in a local setting. A wider reflection on the exuberance and fun on display in the manuscript raised the question of experimentation with form and content again. Visual evidence was explored in a different dimension by Jonathan Turnock, with a consideration of the sculptural schemes of Durham Cathedral Priory and its environs created at about the same time as Hunter 100. The relation between media and motifs between illustration and carving was fascinating to consider. Ana Dias returned to the detail of the manuscript illustrations themselves, developing a methodology to identify those who drew the figures, and their possible employment in other Durham manuscripts. Sarah Gilbert drew the day to a close with an in-depth palaeographical analysis of the manuscript, piecing together the number of scribes that contributed to its production – by the evidence a true community effort!

Our second day moved to wider contexts for the consideration of Hunter 100 and twelfth and thirteenth century compotus. Faith Wallis discussed how scientific albums such as Hunter 100 were designed to be read, with a scheme as meditative as it was instructive, moving the reader from earth to the heavens and back to the human body. How different collections deal with similar questions, and the question why Hunter 100 was produced provoked a lively debate. Philipp Nothaft gave depth and detail to the question of networks and experiments with chronology, with a treatment of the reception of the chronicle of Marianus Scottus (d. 1087), and its abbreviation by Robert of Hereford, and the status of the version of the abbreviation in Hunter 100. How these texts moved around is a key debate. Giles Gasper took the theme of correction from the later eleventh century to Grosseteste, a theme essential to compotus, to think through some of the implications of how time-reckoning and correction of the calendar, fitted into and held to forge, some of the dominant questions of the period, in their social as well as their intellectual setting. Sigbjørn Sønnesyn drew attention back to the practice of monastic reading, the framework of divine reading (lectio divina), with the Cistercian monk Isaac of Stella, and Grosseteste as models. To consider scientific albums as part of this process of slow and guided reading, with stress on experience and meditation, reinforced Faith’s points earlier in the day. Finally, with Alfred Lohr’s magisterial presentation we considered the compotus of Grosseteste, and how different it was to its twelfth century precursors. Similairities remain but Grosseteste’s focus on the mathematical was singled out. Alfred and Philipp reported on the progress of their critical edition – and its relation to the scientific opuscula, which form the emphasis of the Ordered Universe project.

A wonderful few days, in highly stimulating surroundings and company! Thanks go especially to Philipp and the All Souls staff for impeccable hosting, to Rosalind Green for organisational matters, and to all of the contributors. Experiment, dialogue, exchange and collaboration make everything possible.

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